School: Assuming Guardianship of Students: Difficulties of Custody
by Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.
Assuming Guardianship of Students: Difficulties of Custody
In today’s world, it is a fact that many caretakers are responsible for children who are not biologically theirs. This can include grandparents caring for grandchildren, aunts, and uncles caring for nieces or nephews, or even family friend and godparents taking over the parental role. Regardless of the circumstances, all of these people act in good faith, taking over when parents are unable to care for their children. However, in an educational setting, guardianship becomes a much more complicated issue.
There are many times when schools require the signature and approval of legal guardians for various reasons.
Some of these instances may be:
- Signing children into or out of school
- Allowing a student to leave the building for field trips, etc.
- Participation in sports and activities
- Documenting absenteeism due to illness or accident
- Agreeing to participate in academic testing for educational disabilities
- Completing the legal documents necessary for an individual education plan or 504 plan
- Agreeing to emergency medical procedures due to accident at school
In these and other instances, there is a legal requirement for a child’s guardian to sign official documents. Only in cases of extreme emergency is this right waived. Therefore, it is essential that guardians who are not parents have their legal status formalized and documented with the school.
Formal legal documentation cannot consist of a personal note from the parent or guardian regarding legal status. Rather, the schools require a formal letter from a court outlining the specific people who are deemed to be the caregivers of the child. Unless this important documentation is available, the schools may not be allowed to allow anyone else to be responsible for the child. Understand that this is not a personal judgment about the quality of specific caregivers; rather, this is a legal requirement that schools must follow.
For specific legal questions and documentation, it is important to consult both the school district and a personal attorney. They have the experience necessary to guide all guardians through the complex legal proceedings that will protect everyone’s rights. Take the time to get everything settled before the issue becomes a necessity.
In Special Cases of Custody
In certain cases, children may be prevented from having contact with another person, such as a family member or even a parent. Though these cases are difficult, they are other times when it is necessary to have proper documentation on file with your child’s school.
This becomes particularly difficult in cases of contested divorce or other court proceedings. If a parent loses their rights to see their child, the school should be notified in writing with a letter from the court. Without that documentation, schools do not have the authority to prevent a parent from seeing their child, regardless of the status of the parents’ marriage.
Often times, angry parents try to bar their spouse from seeing the children due to personal incompatibility. However, schools are not courtrooms and cannot enforce decisions made by one parent or another when both have equal terms of custody. Rather, it is essential for everyone’s safety that all custody decisions are formalized in writing.
In cases where members of the school staff have made the decision that a child may be in serious physical or emotional danger from a parent or caregiver, they will involve outside agencies dedicated to the welfare of children.
At these times, the staff are mandated to report their concerns to the proper authorities who will then make their own custodial determinations based on their particular state and locals requirements. The school does not make these decisions after their initial reference.
"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
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